Sunday, 30 January 2011

Self-publishing ups and downs

A friend of mine, Roy Bainton, sent me his new book Crazy Horse and the Coalman, which he has self-published. Roy is not someone to rush into self-publishing out of desperation to see his name in print. He is a jobbing writer who has made a precarious full time living for decades, writing sleeve notes, programmes - you name it - as well as books for mainstream publishers like Mainstream, Crowood and Constable & Robinson. But it's tough out there and he has dipped his toes into self-publishing from time to time. Those who know me will be aware of my general disregard for self-publishing, and Roy (who I hope will still be a friend after this posting) is aware of the pitfalls, particularly over being your own editor. This book in one volume shows the upside and downside of self-publishing. Firstly a description of the book. This is an autobiography of Roy's early years, his childhood up to the start of the rock'n'roll period and his joining the Merchant Navy. If categorised beyond autobiography it falls into the genre of "we was poor but we was miserable". His family struggled to survive economically in the roughest parts of Hull, adversity made worse by some daft decisions of his father who blew his war-wound compo on a smallholding that could never be made to work. Ere long the family were trawling round relatives to find anyone who had a spare room, however insanitary. Running alongside the direct narrative is the author's early obsession with the Native American, Crazy Horse, whose life he wished to emulate. The upside is that the book exists. Roy can write well, and wittily, but since the demise of the "people's autobiography" movement it is hard to see any publisher taking a punt on this story. Yet he tells so much about post-war life for the people at the scrag-end and the way his family did, just, survive adversity. Some parts are laugh out loud funny - such as when he was stopped by the police cycling home at midnight on Christmas Eve with some freshly-slaughtered ducks for the family Christmas dinner. Only afterwards did he discover which particular public pond was a couple of ducks short on Christmas Day. (It was funny the way Roy told it.) The downside is the book cries out for an editor and the author's continued use of the Crazy Horse storyline becomes increasingly forced as the author moves into early adulthood. And of course poor Roy has to sell the bloomin' books, which will hardly be reviewed and not stocked by bookshops. That's a downside. I wish there had been a Hull community publisher to take this book up, bash it around a bit and sell it throughout the City. Even so, anybody who knows Hessle Road should get a copy, available from lulu on

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